Monday, February 6, 2012

Multicultural education: Ketapanen

The need for anti-racist multicultural education was underscored this week in Shawano, Wisconsin.  Seventh grader Miranda Washinawatok was suspended from her basketball game after she said a few words in the Menimonee language in front of her teacher. Miranda, who speaks both English and Menominee, attends Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, with a school population that is 60% Menominee.

Miranda was benched for “attitude” problems, according to media reports. The alleged “attitude problem” was that Miranda said the Menominee words “posoh”
(hello) and “ketapanen” (I love you) to a classmate.

According to the Native News Network, “The teacher went back to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, ‘How do I know you are not saying something bad?’” (For teachers who might want to use this story as part of a current events lesson, WBGA-TV out of Green Bay has a report that includes an interview with Miranda.)

Thousands of miles away geographically, but just next door in terms of backward ideology, school officials in Arizona are holding fast to their ban on Mexican American studies in the Tucson Public Schools. They also banned several books, including Rethinking Columbus. Tucson teacher, Curtis Acosta, wrote a moving open letter explaining the details and impact of the ban, showing what the administration forced him to cut out of writing assignments. The Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association’s Executive Board, meanwhile, decided last week to donate $500 to the Tucson teachers’ legal challenge to the state law.

Progressive educators around the country responded to the Tucson ban with a “No History is Illegal Campaign.” The Network of Teacher Action Groups encouraged educators to teach lessons from the banned curriculum.

It’s ironic that the first day of the Tucson ban occurred on Feb. 1, the start of Black History Month. Struggles by African American students in the 1960s won not only Black studies departments and classes, but inspired peoples of many races and cultures to demand that their histories be taught as well. (Additional resources and lesson plans on Black History, Mexican American history and other important topics can be found at the Zinn Education Project.)

While in most school districts and communities there are not such blatant acts of racism as in Shawano and Tucson, the fact is that vast majority of school districts ignore the necessity of anti-racist multicultural teaching and curriculum.

Three years ago in Milwaukee, pushed by a coalition of educator and community groups, the Milwaukee Public Schools established the CLEaR Justice Initiative to promote anti-racist multicultural education. This effort has faltered, due to budget cuts. The Milwaukee teachers’ union, in coalition with community partners, is developing a proposal to the administration and school board to reignite anti-racist multicultural teaching and professional development in the district.

Many new people to the district – teachers, parents and administrators – don’t know of a school board policy still on the books that requires that “Students will project anti-racist, anti-biased attitudes through their participation in a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, culturally diverse curriculum.”

As educators, we have a moral and legal obligation to make sure we teach such a “culturally diverse curriculum.” And administrators should pay attention to reports and scholarly research showing the link betwee cultural competency and higher academic achievement.

African American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. puts it this way: “We’re worried when Johnny can’t read. We’re worried when Johnny can’t add. But shouldn’t we be worried, too, when Johnny tramples gravestones in a Jewish cemetery or scrawls racial epithets on a dormitory wall?”
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I encourage educators, parents and community members to contact me if they want to help promote anti-racist multicultural education in MPS. I would also like to hear from people around the country about how they are promoting multicultural curriculum in their school district.

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